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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.29.17] comedy romance

Writer-director Jeff Baena (Life After Beth) reunites with Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon for a raunchy comedy set in a medieval convent and based (very loosely) on a chapter of "The Decameron." The Little Hours follows the misadventures of a young servant, Massetto, played by Dave Franco, whose ill-advised affair with the wife of his master sends him running to the local convent for sanctuary, unaware that he's falling right into the hands of a group of terribly sinful and extremely horny nuns.

Reilly plays Father Tommasso - ostensibly in charge of the convent, his love of the communion wine somewhat undermines his authority, allowing the nuns free-reign to revel, cavort, experiment with witchcraft, "special herbs," and, indeed, with each other. Massetto is hired by Tommasso as caretaker on the insistence that he act as though he is a deaf mute, thereby ensuring he has minimal contact with the nuns, but that doesn't last long, and soon he finds himself fending off the affections of anybody wearing a wimple.

A surprise visit from Bishop Bartolomeo (Fred Armisen) causes further problems, as this group of misfits need pretend that they're on the Holy level, but during his stay a night of complete insanity ensues, provoking him to hold a trial for all concerned, and the list of sins committed over the course of one evening is pretty damn impressive. As the story progresses, characters discover their own paths, friendships are made and broken and then repaired, secrets are exposed, wine is consumed, and it's all done in the worst possible taste. In a good way.

The Little Hours is a romp, pure and simple. Not to be taken seriously for one moment, it works as a series of sketches and lunatic situations, connecting agreeably into a whole, and for the most part it works pretty well. Plaza rules the screen here, as Sister Fernanda her character is a contender for the most spectacularly foul-mouthed and irritable nun ever shot on film. It's almost a shame the story doesn't simply follow her around as she's so clearly the star of the show (as well as producer of the film), but then perhaps like all great things her character works best in small doses. Dave Franco is on good form here, cheerfully playing the part of the unlucky fool who's way out of his depth, while Reilly, a veteran of this kind of farce, plays Tommasso with a mixture of earnest heart and bumbling idiocy.

Kate Micucci, Alison Brie and Nick Offerman all contribute strong comic performances here as well, with Offerman in particular clearly enjoying his role as Massetto's cruel and weirdly perverted master. It's a performance which is at once amusing, and slightly sinister. I would not like to go on a date with this guy.

Whether or not you'll enjoy this film will almost certainly depend on your own particular sense of humour. If you've seen anything that any of these actors have starred in then you'll know what to expect. Personally, I enjoyed the film. It's not a masterpiece, but everyone is bringing something to the party here and it's a fun little ride. Much of the humour of the film comes from watching characters with relatively modern-day sensibilities interacting within a period setting, a la Blazing Saddles. These nuns might curse like sailors and hump like bunnies, but they still have to scrub the linen, sweep the courtyard and take the donkey for a walk.

Apparently the Catholic Church have branded The Little Hours as "trash," which I guess is fairly typical. John Waters says that Catholics have the best sex lives because, for them, sex is always dirty. From my perspective, the film never actually pushes on through into trashiness or genuine bad taste; it's heart is too firmly in place. Many of the jokes are crude, yes, but some are gentle and others witty. Beyond the bawdy and the lascivious sits a film I'd describe as both cute and filthy, and that is always a winning combination.

Recommended Release: The Decameron

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